Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Cleaning the apartment, one page at a time

Now that jury duty and the semester are over, my days are spent going through the great mass of library books I've managed to accumulate over the months, years... nearly all of which are or might be on my orals lists, and every last one of which will, sniff sniff, have to go back to Bobst within the month, before I leave the city, at which point presumably someone with the exact same interests as I have (because these people are everywhere) would, if I hadn't returned them, recall them all in one go.

So I've been reading more, as the post below indicates, about The Jewess and whatnot, and it occurred to me that in a recent post, in which I laid the blame for the negative media image of Jewish women on hostile Jewish men (not all Jewish men, just the Roth-Allen sort), I totally missed the point. OK, not totally, but I did miss a big part of what's going on, one I really should have picked up on.

As we all learned in intro college classes or elsewhere, way back when, in the great Then revered by social conservatives and at which social liberals stand aghast, sexuality was divided into that which society recognized but that had not been freely chosen, and that which society didn't sanction, but could often be done, in today's parlance, on the down-low. There was no 'coming out' as gay, there was no introducing the family to a partner, of either sex, you just happened to meet at a bar, whose cultural and religious heritage was radically different from your own. There also wasn't any assumption that the official Spouse was also the person you found most sexually desirable at all times, if ever. (Oversimplification I realize, and some counterarguments have already come to mind, but bear with me.)

Anyway. It was back during Then that all sorts of non-blonde women came to be considered the hottest of hot in parts of the West where there was a good chance any given man would have a blonde wife, sister, mother... Call it Orientalization, or better yet, call it exoticization, so as to include non-'Oriental' women who also fell into this category. Whatever. The point is, the times white European men got all hot and bothered en masse by the dark-complexioned Other coincided with the first time they had the chance to meet or at least learn about that Other, but before the historical union of Madonna and Whore, before the expectation that the passionate-sex mistress and the mother-of-your-children, meet-the-parents wife would come all rolled up in the same woman.

Today, the wife is also, ideally, the lover. One is expected to find hot the same person that one deems appropriate. This has some pretty fantastic benefits in terms of female sexuality - thanks to this development plus the Pill, a woman need not choose one or the other category - but it has (and I believe Foucault has something to say about this - also on The List) to some extent stifled sexuality overall. Thus the left's anti-gay-marriage argument: once gay marriage is legal, gays will be pushed into the same conventional channels as straights, and will be chastised for not marrying and moving to the suburbs.

So when it comes to The Jewess, or any other once-exoticized woman, there is no longer a need to look beyond the appropriate, socially-sanctioned partner for the fantasy. OK, there may be a need in some cases, but not to the degree there once was, or at any rate, the assumption is you also happen to be attracted to the appropriate partner, and that it shouldn't be any great torture to repress whatever other attractions, to the inappropriate, may occur. While there still men out there (and women, I suppose) who seek out the exotic, the phenomenon isn't what it used to be. And in many cases thus classified - Jewish man with WASP woman, WASP man with Asian-American woman, etc. - the 'exotic' element may, when it comes down to it, be exceedingly slight. There may be a bit of, 'ooh, she sure doesn't look like my mother!', but all told, you're often looking at two people with equivalent levels of education, or at any rate, at a couple that can, without worrying what the parents will think, take the other person home to visit.

So, PG, other people I rely on to keep me (relatively) sharp: any of this make sense?

9 comments:

PG said...

"Thus the left's anti-gay-marriage argument: once gay marriage is legal, gays will be pushed into the same conventional channels as straights, and will be chastised for not marrying and moving to the suburbs."

I think this is true, and I'm glad that you specify it as Left rather than liberal. For those of us who are conservative in temperament but liberal in politics -- i.e., reformers rather than revolutionaries -- the day when we can make Weekend Plans with our gay friends and their same-sex spouses and adopted/artificially-inseminated offspring, and frown upon our gay friends who are still out clubbing, is eagerly anticipated. It's part of the natural progression from "the class of your spouse ought to be irrelevant -- let us love without regard to something as unimportant as money!" to "the race ought to be irrelevant," to now "the sex ought to be irrelevant."

However, I see among some conservatives the counter to my preference for normalization. These folks have a desire to retain the naughtiness of "exotic" sexuality. These are the conservatives who are having premarital sex, or homosexual sex (see, e.g., Florence King on this), and who really get off on breaking a rule. There's some combination of believing that if everyone does what they do, society will collapse, and of deriving a thrill from knowing that somewhere a Puritan would be upset by what they're doing.

I don't know any of them who will admit to wanting interracial relations to remain socially/ legally disapproved (maybe no one wants that particular frisson, or maybe they do but this is one of those things white conservatives can't say to a liberal person of color).

PG said...

However, this: "a couple that can, without worrying what the parents will think, take the other person home to visit" may be true for white Gentiles and even for Jews, but it is not true for a lot of the rest of us.

I once took a seminar from the Dean of African American Affairs at my alma mater, during the course of which he described himself as a "race man" and said that he would be troubled if one of his children wanted to marry a white person. My dad was doubtful at first when he met my then-boyfriend because he'd assumed I'd marry within our culture. (And also he'd been blissfully ignorant until 10 minutes beforehand that I'd started dating.)

I don't think this is as simple as "reverse racism," but rather a consciousness that while we minorities -- particularly those of us who are well-educated and well-off -- can blend in pretty well among upper-middle-class white society, it doesn't always work in reverse. My husband looks blank and is uncomfortable when my family or family friends lapse into Telugu; wedding planning was extremely stressful; and while neither of us is religious, I suspect he'll be resistant to the various ceremonies my parents will think necessary if we have kids.

All this might actually go more easily if the majority-member spouse were in pursuit of the exotic, because then those moments of dislocation are expected and perhaps even welcomed: Your customs are so foreign and colorful and I enjoy exacerbating my sense of how different we are! I have saved you from a passion-less marriage arranged by your parents, so naturally they aren't immediately warm to me!

But if you got together because you liked what you saw of each other in regular life -- you are interested in the same things, like the same music and enough of the same movies, have compatible senses of humor -- then it's much more of a struggle to deal with the "exotic" bits. There was one point during wedding planning when my husband jokingly accused me of not being the feminist he'd thought he was marrying, because so much of the tradition is patriarchal and he was finding it objectionable while I shrugged and accepted it as what I'd be doing for a few days, not the rest of my life.

Or to be brief and pre-empt any of your conservative commenters: yeah, people of color are the Real Racists and thus you cannot presume the meet-the-parents acceptance among them that you do for the kind of whitefolks who are self-conscious about being racist. I know some white people --educated! doctors! -- from my hometown who didn't like their daughters dating black guys, but this is a geographic area where liberal guilt is in short supply at the Super Wal-Mart.

Phoebe said...

PG1,

"the day when we can make Weekend Plans with our gay friends and their same-sex spouses and adopted/artificially-inseminated offspring, and frown upon our gay friends who are still out clubbing, is eagerly anticipated."

That sounds quite reasonable.

As for those conservatives who, like some on the left, want 'gay' to forever mean 'kinky', maybe it's just one more case of far-left and far-right joining up? In any case, I think it's pretty ridiculous - just because someone happens to be gay doesn't mean they happen to be artistic, to want to live in a city, or to want anything other than a run-of-the-mill domestic life with a partner they love, in a home with, I don't know, a dishwasher.

PG2,

I agree completely that there are cultural differences, but, at least when it comes to members of minority groups whose parents or grandparents are immigrants, it's also a generational thing, or a degree-of-assimilation thing, within cultures. It seems, within families, that there's a clear progression, one generation after the next, towards the 'white' approach.

In terms of (non-immigrant) Jews as undifferentiated whites... in some contexts that can be the case, but hardly so regarding intermarriage. I've encountered the Jewish approach that's (on the surface) like the anything-goes white Gentile one you describe, but also the one that thinks there's nothing in the whole world worse than intermarriage. (I've met enough individuals - not all of whom are religious - who think this. There's also Birthright Israel, article after article in the Jewish press...) And, from the Gentile side, pairing off with undifferentiated-white partners can be a non-event, unless they happen to be from parts of the country without many (any) Jews leads to the 'ooh, how exotic' scenario you describe. The 'meet the folks' scene from 'Annie Hall', where there's this shot of Woody Allen all of a sudden in Hasidic garb, as Grammy Hall imagines him, is not as dated as one might hope.

Where does that leave the white Southerners featured in the article about that segregated prom? I tend to agree with you that white fear of intermarriage differs greatly from that of minorities. But I'm sure there are white Christians out there who, for reasons I can't think of at the moment, are part of sects or subcultures that demand in-marriage, who thus demand in-marriage for reasons that are not gratuitous/racist, and for whom not just any white Christian would do. (OK, Mormons come to mind.)

PG said...

Actually, that might be unfair to Mormons, who seem fine with marrying whoever so long as the spouse is also a Mormon (and of the opposite sex, of course). I know several interracial Mormon couples. Given their enthusiasm for missionizing and conversion in foreign lands, it's not really difficult for them to find non-white spouses. One of my Mormon friends sent out the announcement of his kid's birth in both English and Portuguese because he'd met his wife while missionizing in Brazil.

I think most people accept that inter-religious marriage is more difficult because of the whole "how do we raise the kids?" question. But someone would have to be more than just Hindu to have been seen as One of Us (aka a desi) by my family -- a guy who'd converted recently would not do. He'd have to be familiar with traditions, regard Indian food as home cooking, etc. An American not racially Indian could do it, but he'd pretty much need to have been adopted by an Indian couple to check off all the boxes. And hypothetically a racially Indian person might not -- Kal Penn's character on "House" seems to have been thoroughly stripped down -- but statistically, brown = one of us.

I think what drives the fears of the minority-member parents is that with marriage into the majority, their child will assimilate entirely and no longer be as connected to the parents. That seems unlikely to be true of just plain whiteness (i.e. that a white child who marries a non-white will assimilate away from the mainstream), but I could imagine it for white subcultures, like the hoary romance novel trope in which the ranching family fears that their cowboy son will be lured away to urbanity by the city girl. (Of course, the inevitable happy ending is that she realizes the emptiness of her careerism and settles down to make babies and cornbread, assimilating toward her husband instead.)

But in real life, it's probably much more common that young adults who'd otherwise had the hazy idea of returning home to the country get further assimilated toward mainstream, modern American life (which is urban/suburban) during college, and if they decide to follow a girlfriend to the city where there are more jobs, Ma and Pop are seeing their boy and any grandkids only for Christmas at best.

Unless the majority-member is engaging in exoticization (like the romance novel heroine who is at the ranch in the first place because she needs Simple Country Living), the gravitational pull for the couple will be toward the majority culture, whether that's defined racially or otherwise.

Matt said...

also the one that thinks there's nothing in the whole world worse than intermarriage.

I had a fairly serious Jewish girlfriend for a while where we had to let her parents think we were just good friends. (I'm sure there was some self-deception going on on their parts.) Her parents, especially her mother, were dead set against her being involved seriously with a non-Jew. The funny part is that she was mostly a lesbian- before and after me she only dated women. When she finally came out to her mother she told the (very upset mother) that she _had_ given men a try- she'd been involved with me for all that time. I then immediately became "the one who got away" and retrospectively was perfectly acceptable. (I think her mother eventually calmed down.)

Also, I think there's a lot to your story, though I think it applies mostly to men (I'm not sure if you disagree.) Or, it applies to women in a different way. For middle class men in victorian times, for example, the average age of marriage for men was about 30 or more, but for women it was 18 or 20. These men were not refraining from sex. But, it seems that even among the lower-class women with whom they satisfied themselves, these women did usually eventually marry. Obviously, women had affairs, too, but I'm fairly sure it was much more of a scandal if they were caught. Again, I don't know that you disagree.

Phoebe said...

Oh, all I meant re: Mormons was that they required Mormonism, that one can be white and Christian and still not be anything-goes or racist. My point was that if you are a white Mormon, bringing home another white Christian wouldn't be endogamous enough. But now that I think of it, there probably are white Christian sects that demand in-marriage, for which all potential partners would, given who happens to be in the religion, be white. I just don't know which those are.

Re: conversion - I don't think all Jewish parents are satisfied by conversion. In fact, I know that's not the case. It's partly straightforward intolerance, partly a (justified) understanding that Jewish isn't only a religious category. For the secular Jew who demands in-marriage (not a stance I support, but not racism in the segregated-prom sense), conversion doesn't change the fact that the partner's of another culture/background.

"I think what drives the fears of the minority-member parents is that with marriage into the majority, their child will assimilate entirely and no longer be as connected to the parents."

Yes, that's it. With Jews, there can be the added 'don't dare finish what Hitler started' threat, but it's still generally the same idea.

"Unless the majority-member is engaging in exoticization (like the romance novel heroine who is at the ranch in the first place because she needs Simple Country Living), the gravitational pull for the couple will be toward the majority culture, whether that's defined racially or otherwise."

Also true.

Things get more complicated in the city-country scenario when the city partner is a minority, and the country one might be out-of-touch with the urban-suburban mainstream, but might still (or his family might still) feel more authentically American. But that's another story.

Anonymous said...

"The 'meet the folks' scene from 'Annie Hall', where there's this shot of Woody Allen all of a sudden in Hasidic garb, as Grammy Hall imagines him, is not as dated as one might hope."
Isn't Allen's character only imagining how Grammy Hall must be picturing him? It's his discomfort, not really her bias, that makes him leap to this assumption. Then again, his paranoia may be well-founded, since Annie has already told him that he is what "Grammy Hall would call 'a real Jew'".

Phoebe said...

Matt,

I certainly agree it's all quite gender-specific.

Your story, btw, makes me once again think of one I remember came up recently, not sure in what context - there was an NPR interview recently with a former Seinfeld writer, a Jewish woman whose father told her he was happier when, in middle age, she came out and partnered off with a Jewish woman, than he had been earlier, when she'd been married to a non-Jewish man.

Anonymous,

That's technically true, but as you point out, it's already known that Grammy Hall hates Jews, particularly ones like Allen/Singer. And she shoots him dirty looks. So part of it is his feeling uncomfortable with all the WASP food products and alcohol, but another part is his seeming very out-of-place.

Jeff said...

I haven't seen Take the Money and Run in a long time... did Woody literally briefly transform into a bearded rabbi in prison, or was that someone's imagination?